THIS book is something more than an act of pious homage to a rare, gracious, and gifted woman. Mary Coleridge's talents as a writer of exquisite, if unequal, fiction and of verse • Gathered Leases : from the Prose of Mary R. Coleridge. With a Memoir by Edith Sichel. London: Constable and Co. [7s. 6tL net.]
of true poetic quality have already been acknowledges. Her claims to abiding recognition are now enhanced by extracts from her correspondence, which prove her to have been a letter-writer of the first rank. But before we deal
with the new matter in this volume a few words must be said of Miss Sieben! Memoir. Her -task was by no means easy,
but she has succeeded to admiration in 'conveying the charm and the variety of Mary Coleridge's delicate and complex personality. She was a saint with a strong sense of humour.
She was by turns shy to secretiveness and frank to the verge of audacity. She was steeped in culture, a remarkable linguist, and an excellent Greek scholar without being in the least priggish, and her love of Plato, Euripides, and limner did not prevent her from appreciating Ibsen, D'Annunzio, and Tolstoi. She was a great hero-worshipper and at the same time a relentlessly honest and unconventional critie. All these traits and many more are brought out in Miss Sichel's Memoir, which is animated by a touching devotion never degenerating into effusion. The hereditary influence at work is happily summed up in the following passage :—
" Somebody said of Mary Coleridge that she was like the tail of the comet S.T.C."I have no fairy godmother,' she once wrote, `but lay claim to a fairy great-great-uncle, which is perhaps the reason that I am condemned to wander restlessly around the Gates of Fairyland, although I have never yet passed them.' All the same, she was well within the magic fence, and the likeness to her great-great-uncle is no imaginary one. It comes out, perhaps, most in a certain weird quality of her imagination—in the love for the strange and the unearthly—which haunted her from childhood onwards."
She had none of the egotism of genius; indeed, she was strangely conscious of her limitations :-
" After all, what do I know of the world ? Beyond the fact that I have lived in it twenty-six yeare—nothing. I have not even learnt its alphabet. Thirteen years at least out of the twenty-six have I lived in books, and yet I understand them not much better. Dorothea's marriage with Ladislaw is as groat a mystery to ins as the existence of capital punishment. I have not imagination enough to understand fact, nor experience enough to comprehend fiction."
There is the same honesty in her recognition of the gulf that sundered her from the poor. " Without equality in notions of truth and honour she found real intercourse impossible.
it was a profound disappointment when at last it dawned upon her that her hope could not be realised—that the obstacle to true equality lay, not only in the rich, but in the poor themselves." But as she wisely said to a friend who wished to be a missionary but was prevented : " Our Lord did not tell every one to go and evangelise It will seem to me that He wants us to do what He gave us the power to do—not things that are against nature." The power in her ease was that of teaching, for which she had a true vocation. " She sought out the working- girls who wished to learn, and their wish created an equality.
For years she had a class at home; from 1895 onwards she taught at the Working Women's College," and it was for these working women that she wrote the admirable lecture on Queen Elizabeth printed in this volume. She was, as Miss
Sichel says, at once too humorous and too humble to take her literary work seriously, though self-confidence grew with success. Her first novel, The Seven Sleepers of Ephesus, was
more or less of a failure, "a failure crowned by one laurel, the praise of Stevenson," and her poems would never have
seen the light but for the insistence of Mr. Robert Bridges. A propos of her first and only popular success, The King with Two Faces, Miss Sichel has some true remarks on the incom-
pleteness of ber creative powers. " A distinguished writer once said of her that if a volume were made of her 'Beginnings,' she would rank as a genius of the first order." Her work,
indeed, had always a "fiery dawn "—to borrow a phrase she used as the title of one of her novels—but these morning glories were often obscured in mist when she came
to develop her ideas : "it seemed as if she -had not enough talent to support and sustain her genius." Miss Sichel dwells rightly on the impersonality of her poems, some of which "are inspired by what happened to those she loved—by feelings and episodes sometimes serious, sometimes transient but intensified by imagination. It was always the imagination of the Irma, not the head. She had no curiosity, only sympathy.
To have a success shared by Mary Coleridge was a revelation of generosity. Any triumph of those she cared for intoxicated her--there-is no other word; the embarrassinent she felt when she herself was praised was compensated for by her delight in the praise she heard of others." - She did a good deal of reviewing for the Times and the Monthly Review, but if we mistake not, she only wrote on books and subjects that 'attracted her. ' She took no joy in condemning, but she had a generous felicity in expressing her admiration. A remark- able trait in her character was her independence of com- -panionship. She lived surrounded by those she loved," but "she could not get on without solitude." Though a Christian, "she had a fellow-feeling for heresies and heterodoxies so 'Ong as they were straightforward." She had her doubts, "but they were not the doubts of modern thought; they were the fears—the misty fears—of a poet " :— " The poet in her was bolder than the woman, and therefore there were conflicts in her soul. Yet the poet it was that came to the rescue.
What am I ? Next door to nothing, but a point in boundless space ; Made of something that I know not, masked and witnessed by a face. Caught and firmly held together by a Body and a Mind,
With Eternity before it, and Eternity behind.
What is walking, running, leaping to the joy of airy flight? • What is sight beside the seeing in the Infinite of Sight ?
What were knowledge, what were wisdom, were I wise and when I knew ? Truth itself were Truth no longer, if a manai could prove it true.
It was thus that she continued to achieve belief. The lamp of her faith might flicker in the wind, but it never went out; it was held by a steady hand. And if the flame was not fiery it was pure. 'If I die, I am going to God,' the words were among the last she BPoke-"
Miss Sichel expresses the opinion that Mary Coleridge will live by her poems. That may be, but the quality of her prose, if of intermittent excellence, often touched a very high level. Of her novels we have already spoken, but we still think, as we thought when we read it for the first time in the Cornhill twelve years ago, that The Friendly Foe is one of the most . original and entrancing of short stories,—with an element -of wild yet delicate daring that is all her own. There are references in it to a lift and to electric light, yet all the while one is looking through magic casements. It is a furiously romantic tale, yet purged of all the grossness of extrava- gance,—like the work of a spiritualised or etherealised Dumas. And The Lady of the Hillside, instinct with the pure quixotic spirit, is a beautiful antidote to the luscious realism of Mr. Maurice Hewlett's stories of Renaissance Italy. Most of these prose pieces—stories, essays, and reviews—have seen the light before, but The City of Byblos is new,—a delightful allegory full of keen but gentle satire directed against the odium -theologiount, the upholstery and frippery and fashion of :letters. The paper on Mrs. Gaskell is a noble tribute to a noble writer who "held a brief for the heroism of everybody as against the heroism of a favoured few."
The special feature of these " Gathered Leaves," however, is the collection of passages from Mary Coleridge's letters and diaries. The passages which deal with art and letters abundantly justify Miss Sichel's remarks in the Memoir:- " To books she gave the same kind of criticism [as to people]—
wayward, enthusiastic, unreasoned In life she shrank from violence—in art it often gave her pleasure. But she was always manysided her modernism did not interfere with her classicism, but she had a great mistrust of any grooves and of any academic shibboleth." These remarks • may serve as preface to a few characteristic sayings taken almost at random from these pages :—
" Perfect comedy [i.e., Mozart's Figaro, Shakespeare's As You Like It] is almost too beautiful to laugh at, as perfect tragedy is 'too deep for tears!"
"June is God's alms to the poor. He feeds them with
the sweet air, He clothes their naked bodies with the warmth of the sunshine. I never feel inclined to be charitable in June. It seems to me that Heaven has taken it off my hands, and I am sorry
• for no one."
"To worship God in silence is noble; it shows the poverty and unworthiness of speech, by exalting thought above it. In the finest silence of all, Thought is not ; in enjoyment it expires,' and the worship of joy is the worship of angels. But to worship God with impromptu words is ignoble, for unconsidered speech is the least that a man can offer."
"Lovers, being absorbed in each other, sometimes forget to act for weeks together. Civilised humanity found it impossible to stand this, and invented the honeymoon."
"People who are always in the mood .for Duty make Saints, and people who are often in the•mood for it, Heroes."
" E— says lbsen's Ghosts is like a Greek play because no . catastrophe happens on the stage. I can't feel that. It • seems to me rank where a Greek play would be strong. . . . . . The Greeks are wild to kill themselves because they have outraged con- vention, the Scandinavians are wild to kill convention because it has outraged. them."
" Qualifications absolutely necessary for a -good historian : 1. Imagination; 2. Prejudice ; 3. The power of writing your own
biography at the same time. I think the Devil writes religious biography."
"I read some of Medea; it stiffens one's mind to do a bit of Greek. Classic folk despise Euripides, but after all he was Milton's man. Medea is thoroughly fin de sitete ; says she would rather go into battle three times than have a baby once, pitches into men like anything. But there's too much Whitechapel in her. How are you to be seriously interested in a woman who has murdered her mother and boiled her father-in-law before the play begins ? So different from the gentle Phaedra, and the wonderful Antigone and Helen."
" The result of leaving children to the guidance of nature is so very dreadful ; and the men and women who say they live accord- ing to nature are even more intolerable than the children. If I follow nature, I scream when I have a tooth out, I eat eleven strawberries when there are twelve on the table, I come down late to breakfast, there's no end to the inconvenient things that I do."
"Besides the terrific knowledge he [William Cory] had that vein of caprice which seems to me sometimes to mark out all the really great critics—men who were poets before they turned to criticism—men like Sir Philip Sidney, Charles Lamb, Matt Arnold, FitzGerald and so on."
"She sings me Songs of the North so that every evening about nine thirty I become a furious Jacobite, and meditate profoundly on the advantage it gives a cause if you can call it Charlie' or The Grand Old Man' or Joe.' I wish we had a Christian name for Free Trade. Wha wadna die for Cobden 1" doesn't come off somehow."
" D'Annunzio . . . . . . is rather like Heine with the wit left out, and I get tired of his being so tired of everything. Still he is very beautiful ? But Plato would never have let him go near the Republic."
" The tortoise has all C.'s heart. She rubs his shell with Globe- polish. He seems to me to be such a very curious result of a diet of flowers. He eats nothing excepting an occasional buttercup, yet there he is, the prosiest animal you can conceive. It is as if a city-man were to read nothing but Yeats and Austin Dobson, and yet remain a city-man."
" That's the charming thing about great writing, it's never the same twice over."
" Self-sacrifice is the noblest thing in the world, but to sacrifice other people even for the very noblest things is as wrong as persecution."
The " Table-Talk of William Cory " makes excellent reading, but its true place is in a Life of that remarkable scholar. We welcome, however, the beautiful unstudied elegiac poem by Mr. Bernard Holland, which has a " beginning " worthy of Mary Coleridge herself:—
"The hour had come; you could no longer stay, Swiftest and brightest Spirit of our day !"
Miss Sichel is an admirable writer, but she -has never written anything so good as the short Memoir which introduces these "Gathered Leaves." Our only complaint is that she has not given us more of the letters and diaries. The stories and essays, admirable in -themselves, give the book a composite character. But with all deductions, this is a worthy memorial of the genius and character of Mary Coleridge.